In the final reckoning, the story carried the day.
With the field winnowed down based on overall condition, difficulty of restoration and attention to detail, the judges cast their eyes over the remaining finalists and picked the winners. As ever, the deciding factor wasn’t the polish on the sheet metal, it was what lay beneath.
Staged on May 19, the 32nd showing of the All-British Field Meet – the largest British-themed car show in Western Canada – was a must-attend event for enthusiasts of any stripe. There was everything from a swooping, low-bodied Invicta to a humpy, homely, Mumford-built Austin Marina cabriolet.
Many concours events mistake stuffiness for exclusivity – not so with the ABFM, where all are welcome each year. There were half-built projects pushed on to the field, Rovers in the family for generations, prewar Rolls-Royces as haughty as an aristocratic aunt, swarms of more-common MGBs and Minis, battalions of Land Rovers, squadrons of Triumphs and whatever the correct term is for a group of wood-framed Morgans (a grove?).
This year, I wasn’t a mere onlooker, but a clipboard-bearing judge. Along with two more-experienced scrutineers, I was assessing the Debuting Restoration class, which is split into three levels. A prize is awarded for the best restoration under $50,000, between $50,000 and 100,000, and for more than $100,000 invested.
The two other judges were Nigel Matthews, one of a handful of Canadian judges at the prestigious Pebble Beach concours, and John Allen, who has been piloting British cars since his youth in Northern Ireland. Incidentally, for the motorcycle-racing fans in the crowd, Allen Honda was Isle of Man TT legend Joey Dunlop’s first sponsor in the early days. Between them, they have more than a century of judging experience.
Our first few candidates were in the under-$50,000 range, and even I can tell where corners have been cut. Originality is key, and there were a surprising number of after-market air filters, alternators and reworked engines on display.
The ABFM recognizes that British cars can be, in their original form, more than a little unreliable. Thus, there’s a modified class for engine swaps and racing variants, where you can see V-8-powered MGBs and even a Ford Escort Mexico with a Honda S2000 swap.
For the class we judged, things were supposed to be period correct. Overlooking a bored-out engine in a Bugeye Sprite is one thing, but a huge K&N cone filter is not quite cricket. Getting nitpicky, incorrect hose fittings are a commonly overlooked way to lose points.
In the classic car world, there are roughly two ways to judge: the French method, where a car’s overall elegance is evaluated, and the more common process, where details matter most. Usually, a car will begin with 100 points, and suffer deductions for discrepancies and deficiencies.
The ABFM is a little more informal, and Allen and Matthews are old hands at judging; thus, they tend to rely more on overall impression after scanning the engine bay and interior for obvious shortcomings.
Working our way down from the top part of the paddock, the first few entries on the list were appreciated but ultimately fell out of the running for incorrect aftermarket bits. The standout was an Austin-Healey 100 in the $50-100,000 category, near-flawless in execution. Coming with a dealer-installed Le Mans package for a bump in power, it is the owner’s second Austin-Healey, a restoration that has benefited from a familiarity with the breed.
Returning to the sub-$50,000 range saw a more hodgepodge assortment of vehicles, but some charming ones, too. One near-flawless British Racing Green MGB GT looked an early favourite, and the owner is a previous winner. Yet as the judges poked a little closer, the little ’B proves almost too perfect. The MGB is not a Rolls-Royce, it’s a runabout for the every man. This one featured pinstriped leather work nicer than ever left the factory, and ceramic-coated headers you could eat off.
A few cars down, a white-on-red 1964 MGB roadster belongs to an owner with the unlikely name of Geoff Chrysler. Where the green car shone brightly, the white car is more a time capsule, but there’s considerable care taken here to preserve the original carpeting and other details -- a standout example.
Another MGB attracted attention, and while it wouldn’t be a contender for a win, it was worth a closer look. Originally delivered to a local dealership in late 1980, it’s the last of the breed and probably the worst of them. At this point, the MGB’s lightweight charm had been supplanted by a too-tall ride height and unsightly rubber bumpers.
Yet this one, restored by Hugh Grady, 20, shows care and attention to detail everywhere you look. The budget may have been shoestring, but there’s a best-of-British spirit here that’ll serve a new generation of enthusiasts well. We made a note to pass along our recommendations to those judging the youth category.
It’s the over-$100,000 category that presented the biggest challenge, despite having the smallest number of entrants to sort through. The two finalists were an impeccable E-type convertible complete with colour-matched hardtop and an equally-flawless Jaguar XK120.
It’s here where the story made the difference. The former car was a pristine, rust-free California find; the restoration work was without fault, but there wasn’t much of a backstory. With the XK120, the owner, Stephen Plunkett, had been hauling the car around since the mid-1980s, always hoping to find the time to bring it back to former glories. With a little over 100,000 km on the odometer, Plunkett planned to take his car up to Whistler with a hundred or so other British cars – a post-ABFM tradition.
A machine with meaning, restored and preserved, and with an owner who will use it as intended. No matter what a restoration might cost, I’d judge that to be something you can’t really put a price on.